Colorful Rainbow over an ocean rock in Iceland.

Phantom islands on ancient maps dismissed as mirages, myths, or mistakes

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1539 map of Thule (Tile) that shows a monster and whales.

1539 map of Thule (Tile) that shows a monster and whales. ( Wikimedia Commons image )

Experts maintain that reports of phantom islands can be attributed to many different factors. Some are purely mythical, while others arose through navigational errors, misidentification of icebergs, mislocation of actual islands, fog banks, or mirages. Others may have once existed but were later destroyed by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, or underwater landslides.

Featured image: Colorful Rainbow over an ocean rock in Iceland. Source: BigStockPhoto

By Mark Miller


Most of these phantom islands were as imaginary as the sea monsters depicted near them.

Roberto Peron's picture

Some of them may have been there once but since then have gone beneath the waters due to quakes, eruptions, etc.  But some were also likely mirages as well or perhaps even wishful thinking.  Strange things happen to men's minds at sea for a long while.  

Sunk below the sea as waters rose.
Map makers deliberately add errors to their maps so they can or could prove it was their map and not one sold off as their own.

Some of those monsters and maybe some of those islands were possibly used to fill up empty space - hard to sell a map when a third of it is empty as no one had explored that far yet. Also, I once read that some cartographers include what I think they called "McNallys" (like in Rand-McNally, the famous map publisher), features such as dead-end roads or small ponds that aren't there, but would flag another maker's map as infringing on the first's copyright if they included them (i.e., both mapmakers should not show the same non-existent feature). Maybe that's what some of those islands were

Of course, one of the most famous fake islands was the Island of Buss (no relation), named after one of Frobisher's ships which was a buss (a Dutch fishing boat) which supposedly landed on it. At one point, a mapmaker showed the island and the city and described the inhabitants. But there is no evidence the island ever existed, unless it was one of the Orkney's and the buss was very much off course.

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